Volvo V50 1.6d 2008

For many years Volvo has been considered a very safe car, it was built like a tank. If you hit anything you just left a Volvo shaped dent in the opposing object. In the early 90’s the reason they were so safe is that they were huge, if you had an accident it was happening in another time zone. This was also the problem with old Volvo, they were so big they needed a huge engine to haul them around; in fact everything needed to be bigger. All the springs, shocks and brakes might as well have come from a truck. This made the handling sloppy, a bit like steering a canal barge, you knew you were turning the wheel but you weren’t sure if the wheel was connected to anything. Nonetheless Volvo were the first to introduce all sorts of safety toys that we take for granted now, side air bags to complement the side impact protection system (SIPS), child booster seats, 3 point seat belts. But even with all the safety equipment you could still get a wardrobe in the back of a 960 estate, and I’m not talking Ikea flat pack here. The V70 when it first came out was the same ship type structure just lacking the decks and sails.

The S40 had been around for sometime now and somewhere in Volvo they must have heard that people wanted an estate version of this (probably a focus group) so in early in the noughties they made a V50, replacing the V40. It’s gone through some face lifts and alterations but it still looks basically the same car when it was first released.

The main difference is the engine size, instead of a huge 3ltr, there’s a 1.6. Now there are other engines to get, 2ltr diesel, 1.8 petrol or flexifuel for you eco people. The baby diesel is just about good enough to haul the V50 around, but it does struggle a bit when the car is loaded. Speaking of loaded, the boot is ok by today’s standards but knowing what some of the older Volvos can carry it does feel a little small; it’s just not big enough for an estate, the 3series and A4 are bigger.

In the cabin all is not well either; the room in the back seats just isn’t what it should be. With my seat set correctly for my height I found it a struggle to get in the back. However in the drivers’ seat all is well, the seat is firm but not hard. All the controls are clearly laid out, and all the switchgear feels tough and made out of good plastics. That floating console down the centre of the dash is a lovely, curvy thing. It’s beautiful to look at; from the side it’s thin and still manages to have all the controls in just the right place. Just watch out for some people’s choice of wood finishes, some of it is dire.

The V50 is certainly very handsome for an estate car, the rear light arrangement is just right. Although you won’t say that if you’re driving behind one on a wet night, let’s just say you’ll know when the Volvo driver is braking.

On the road the car is well behaved and pliant over the bumpy bits, there is little chance of having a crash because you won’t be going very fast. The 1.6 engine isn’t what you would call nippy, being a diesel you expect to run out of puff around 4000 revs but the Volvo never seemed to have enough power to get some puff in the first place. That said, under normal conditions it was economical enough, you might get into the high 40 mpg if you move at a leisurely pace.

It seems that the most important feature of this car is safety; there is every safety measure that Volvo can throw at you. If you’re going to crash then you will be fine in this car, if you don’t believe me then look at this video of a V40 crashing.

R design interior

There are some fine detailing points; Volvo tells me that all the seats and carpets are made from a hypoallergenic material so an asthma attack is unlikely, and the radiator is coated with a chemical that converts ozone into oxygen, so if you’re stuck in traffic you don’t have to smell the car in front.

But lets be straight here, this is an estate car and that by its nature means this should be a big car with a decent engine. You should be able to load the boot with a ton of stuff, put 3 people in the back, hook up a caravan, put a surfboard on the roof and set off. But you can’t, the clutch would be in a million pieces before you got to the end of the drive. This car is a compromise, it’s too small to be an estate and too big to be a decent hatchback. Couple the underpowered 1.6ltr diesel to the package and you’ve got a car just doesn’t do anything properly. Other than the sleek looking exterior and the sweeping centre console there’s no good reason that I can think of to buy this car.

There are some other factors to think of before you completely ignore all I’ve just said and go for that Volvo. Ford have for some years owned Volvo, it was a successful partnership too right up until Ford needed to save money. Volvo was, after some problems sold to Geely Automobile. Unless you’re in the trade, and even if you are, you probably never heard of Geely. They used to make fridges and scooters but in 1998 they started making cars, a few years later they were exporting cars. In 2005 they had a prototype at the Frankfurt show called the Geely CD, and that was ugly, a mash of a Megane and Hyundai Accent. They also have the Panda and something called Emgrand series.

The Geely CD

$1.8 billion later Geely are very nearly the owner of Volvo, the deal is expected to complete late this year. So who knows what’s ahead of Volvo now, think about the Geely factor before you reach for your wallet, Volvo in Latin means “I roll” but I wonder if Geely will bring Volvo to a sudden halt.